Residents affected by the train derailment and subsequent chemical fallout in East Palestine, Ohio, could be subject to a number of long-term health complications as a result of prolonged exposure to toxic substances despite officials’ assurances that the air and water in the town is safe, researchers from Texas A&M University and Carnegie Mellon University said on Friday.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals on the vehicle to decrease the risk of an explosion, which could have sent shrapnel throughout the small town. Vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was emitted from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of black smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
The researchers from Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon said on Friday that nine of the approximately 50 chemicals that the EPA said were present on the derailed train have higher concentrations than normal in East Palestine. They were especially concerned with above-normal levels of acrolein, a substance with a pungent odor that is “highly toxic” when inhaled, according to a report from the CDC.
Other chemicals charted at abnormally high levels included benzene, naphthalene, and vinyl chloride. “If these levels continue, they may be of health concern,” the analysis said.
The findings come after the EPA said that “test results from the village’s municipal well sampling showed no water quality concerns,” while Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) announced that tests conducted by the Ohio EPA revealed “no detection of contaminants in raw water from the five wells that feed into East Palestine’s municipal water system.” Governor Josh Shapiro (D-PA) likewise remarked in a recent interview that tests of municipal water supplies and wells have not shown any “concerning readings” of hazardous chemicals.
A team of journalists and producers from The Daily Wire who visited East Palestine last week nevertheless reported a lingering smell in the air, an oily chemical sheen in local creeks and rivers, and symptoms such as sore throats and headaches garnered merely by spending an extended period of time in the community. One first responder who discussed his experiences with The Daily Wire said that he and several colleagues experienced sore throats, headaches, coughing, and diarrhea after helping residents respond to the incident.
Beyond the release of vinyl chloride, Norfolk Southern, the company at the center of the derailment, warned the EPA that a number of other volatile chemicals, including ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and ethylhexyl acrylate, were present at the site. The EPA published the full list of substances only after residents were told they could safely return to their homes.
Senior officials in the Biden administration have faced criticism for not publicly addressing the train derailment in the days after the incident occurred. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who publicly acknowledged the crisis for the first time on February 13, emphasized during a press conference in East Palestine on Thursday that lawmakers need to consider new regulations for trains that carry hazardous materials. When pressed by one reporter on whether he should have visited the town sooner, Buttigieg said he was balancing his “desire to be involved and engaged and on the ground” with his “desire to follow the norm” and let the National Transportation Safety Bureau handle the incident.